How do you distinguish between a good writer and a bad one?

Writing hasn’t exactly come easily to me over the past few weeks. I’ve spent a lot of my focused energy on trying to revise for exams and occasionally doing a little bit of creative writing, not much of it worthy for the public realm. Yet there’s something about coming to visit my Dad which encourages me to write (which is worrying, I should be studying!) and I don’t know why that is, but here I am.

I found a spark of energy in me last night after being encouraged to create an Instagram page for my writing – I used to write terrible poetry and a part of me though that I should try producing some pieces again based of what I’ve learnt, read and experienced lately. Then weirdly enough, I am proud of what I created and shared. Whilst I always find that poetry is too personal to grace my website, you can view it on my writing page on Instagram, which is @kkelswrites.

Newfound writing adventure aside, this stirred up a few discussions last night as to what good and bad writing is. I’m always conflicted when it comes to this as a part of me believes that if what someone puts on paper is a product of their experiences, emotions and whatever else happens within their brains, then how can you disregard that as bad and place their writing on pedestals amongst other peoples? Another part of me knows that that’s just how life works, and writing will never be a ‘communistic’ subject – the good get published, the bad get thrown into the fire.

This brought me on to consider my favourite author and poet, Charles Bukowski, who I am sure that many of my readers, friends and family are sick of hearing of. Bukowski wasn’t exactly the best of writers and whether his writing person was genuine, or a façade created to sell book has always been a mystery that’s left open to interpretation of his readers. At first glance and even after an hour of ruthlessly reading through his poetry, it’s easy to place him in the ‘tumblr, pansy, toxic and untalented poetry’ section that Rupi Kaur belongs in and many Instagrammers love, but that’s where the difference lies.

stay

i whispered

as you

shut the door behind you’

A lack of grammar may literally define you as raw, but unnecessary spaces and italics whilst additionally stating something that any Tumblr user could churn out into a text post when they’re feeling sad is not poetry. I would love to agree with much of the internet realm that Rupi Kaur is a talented writer but anyone with wit and a background of reading can she that she is nothing short of a pseudointellectual who is trivialising an artform. Those who have spent much of their time struggling to put their most undecipherable thoughts into something that possesses rhythm, structure and beauty are merely disregarded by modern culture as people profess their love minimalistic, quirky quotes. Quotes, not poems.

‘if you are not enough for yourself

you will never be enough

for someone else’

The final thing I’d like to note about Rupi Kaur is that her poetry is swarmed with toxicity that teenage girls are falling in love with. To fall in love with yourself before anyone else is a nice, powerful thought but on the surface, we are a race of insecure beings. It is wrong to think that we are unworthy of being loved just because we do not like ourselves. It is wrong to think that because we do not love ourselves, that everybody else surrounding us will not be a fan of us either. Her collection is just poem after poem of disinterested narcissism, created to sell to a modern-era of social media users who love ‘poetry’ that is short enough to be tweeted and blatant enough to be understood at first glance. Rupi Kaur fails to empower her readers, as she falsely claims, but fools them instead.

It can be argued that Kaur’s simplicity shares a lot with that of Bukowski, and many (who I would hope not to be a fan of Kaur) would profess Bukowski’s utterances as similarly being empty, awful and unnecessary for the world of poetry. Yet, Charles Bukowski differs wildly, despite appearing in a similar light at first glance.

‘little dark girl with
kind eyes
when it comes time to
use the knife
I won’t flinch and
i won’t blame
you,
as I drive along the shore alone
as the palms wave,
the ugly heavy palms,
as the living does not arrive
as the dead do not leave,
i won’t blame you,
instead
i will remember the kisses
our lips raw with love
and how you gave me
everything you had
and how I
offered you what was left of
me,
and I will remember your small room
the feel of you
the light in the window
your records
your books
our morning coffee
our noons our nights
our bodies spilled together
sleeping
the tiny flowing currents
immediate and forever
your leg my leg
your arm my arm
your smile and the warmth
of you
who made me laugh
again.
little dark girl with kind eyes
you have no
knife. the knife is
mine and i won’t use it
yet.’

Similarly, Bukowski is raw in a sense that grammar was never something of concern to him. His writing could easily exist in the same genre as Rupi Kaur’s but it evident that as selfish as Bukowski had been during his lifetime, his poem lacks the self-obsessed empowerment campaigning that Kaur clings on to. A good poem offers an insight into how the author’s mind works and invites you to get to know them, a better poem uses spacing to it’s advantage and a brilliant poem demands nothing of it’s reader because a good poet writes for themselves – not anybody else.

‘there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
you.
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
he’s
in there.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?
you want to screw up the
works?
you want to blow my book sales in
Europe?
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody’s asleep.
I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be
sad.
then I put him back,
but he’s singing a little
in there, I haven’t quite let him
die
and we sleep together like
that
with our
secret pact
and it’s nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don’t
weep, do
you?’

You can read dozens of poetry collections from the likes of Sylvia Plath, Leonard Cohen, John Cooper Clarke etc. and it’s Kaur’s poems that you’ll fail to remember. Their lack of personality offers no memorable qualities. She writes of loving yourself, doesn’t she? Oh, I can’t remember. Bukowski’s tale of unrequited love though? His story of his metaphoric bluebird trapped inside of him? Once a good poet hits you, you’ll remember them. Bukowski’s poetry tells tales of his alcoholism, sexuality and struggles as a writer not coping with existing. Plath speaks of death so personally, with an enigmatic subtlety that you’ll fail to think of death in the same way ever again. These poets place themselves into their writing and let their writing consume them –  but where is the personality and experience within Kaur? It just makes for light, apathetic reading.

I came to argue if there is an existence of good and bad writing – whilst I strongly hold the opinion that poetry is personal to it’s reader and people can love whatever that they connect with (so yes, Rupi Kaur fans, I don’t condemn you), I do believe that there is a fine line between true, hard, artistic work and sentences inspired by scrolling through a Tumblr dashboard and a wad of cash following publication. Seeking a good writer and taking the time to understand them is more rewarding than the instant-gratification nature of most social-media poetry. This goes for the real world of youth, inexperienced writers like myself too. Many may share a few words, and many aren’t personal or artistic, but just what they think others will enjoy reading. My words of wisdom that I have learnt form looking into this is to always write for yourself and nobody else and unless what you’ve produced has come from your heart and feels right to you, then don’t share it. Insincere writing is bad writing.

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